On the Spot

September 24, 2012

Car Connectivity Redefines the Road

By TMCnet Special Guest
Mika Rytkonen, Chairman and president of the Car Connectivity Consortium

This article original appeared in the Sept. 2012 issue of Next Gen Mobility.

In an always-on world, smartphones take pole position. From texting, e-mailing and surfing the web to location-aware retail and social media services, when it comes to completing a given task, smartphones are usually the first, closest and fastest method to get us across the finish line.

But when the connected lifestyle meets an actual gas pedal, the racing metaphor comes to an ironic halt. All sorts of difficult questions emerge around safety, liability and functionality. As the various industry stakeholders scramble to provide answers, drivers are left with two bleak options: they can completely disconnect from the grid, or they can hijack native radio and entertainment systems by connecting their phones via obscure jacks, pirate radio adapters or other patchwork solutions. In the long run, none of this is feasible.

As history suggests, there’s probably a better option. After all, a similar debate occurred when the first car radios were installed, and nowadays, if a car doesn’t have a sound system it might as well not even roll.

What if there was a technology that not only made smartphone connectivity safer, but also enhanced the overall driving and infotainment experience? With full device and automobile integration, could we be headed toward a more realistic, forward-thinking version of connected mobility?

The fact is, the auto industry has approached the issue from a number of angles over the past several years. Manufacturers have supplied wired and unwired phone connection options for hands-free calling. They’ve Internet-enabled their infotainment systems for traffic-aware navigation and Internet radio. Eventually there came a flood of proprietary systems to offer more of an umbrella approach to the connected-driving experience. Ford, Toyota, GM, Fiat and others already offer some flavor of connectivity.

In the meantime, the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers has served as the backbone for defining appropriate interaction for all driving tasks and has developed rigorous internal testing processes to ensure minimal distractions and driver workload. Why not apply the spirit of this practice to smartphone and car connectivity – and bind the new set of rules under a single technology standard?

By now, most automobile manufacturers, handset vendors, mobile application developers and consumer electronics companies agree that the best way to approach integration between cars and smartphones is via a common platform. By developing connected driving systems around one technology, stakeholders can benefit from a higher degree of equipment interoperability, in turn lowering the economic threshold to deployment and ubiquity.

Developed by the Car Connectivity Consortium, MirrorLink is a standard that offers seamless connectivity between a smartphone and a car’s infotainment system. By mirroring the smartphone screen on the infotainment screen, automatically adapting apps to safe-driving mode and making those apps accessible via dashboard and steering wheel buttons, MirrorLink allows consumers to use all their favorite smartphone services while keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Among the numerous benefits to developers, MirrorLink enables app programming within a single technology to support a range of vehicles, rather than creating a different version of an app for each brand of car. Best of all, MirrorLink is already on the market, having debuted with much excitement in production-model handsets and vehicles.

Smartphone connectivity standards like MirrorLink offer distinct benefits for all members of the car connectivity ecosystem. Auto manufacturers can win new customers by offering a simple method to bring key smartphone functionality right onto the dashboard. Handset manufacturers and OS vendors can extend brand presence to new real estate, literally adding hours of visibility with each subscriber. Along with a common technology platform, MirrorLink gives app programmers access to car sensor data, opening the door to new innovations around safety, emissions reduction and much more. Operators are no longer at odds with regulators when it comes to ethically monetizing users while they drive. Regulators can be assured connected driving does not automatically sacrifice safety. And consumers reap the phenomenal benefit of staying connected not just in their own cars, but in their spouses’ or friends’ cars – or rental or car-share pools – so long as those vehicles are MirrorLink-enabled.

Smartphones also could communicate seat and mirror settings between vehicles, or adaptive transmission and suspension histories.

The GSMA (News - Alert) predicts that by 2020, the market for connected car applications will reach $600 billion. It stands to reason the most widely distributed technology will yield the largest chunk of this revenue. Consumers will ultimately reject the practice of driving in a communications vacuum. Standards will open windows and shift gears.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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